Ep 43 – Enviro Ed research news; moth evolution resource

Part 1: Discussion on a report from Learning Through Landscapes about the results of a pilot project involving 47 UK schools and 1000+ students.

This is a report on the results of a pilot project. Most of the information in the report is only useful future rollout of the programme, and suggests directions for improvement and research. Not many specific insights for practitioners.

Added caveat that this pilot was conducted in Autumn of 2020 where comparisons with what children were doing before September are highly unusual due to the UK national lockdown. Increase in physical activity is not surprising, as the study was conducted while most restrictions were lifted.

Main findings in the report

Positive impacts seen: 

  • More engaged with local environmental issues
  • More engaged with their school grounds
  • More physically active 
  • Gained new knowledge about the topics studied in the project

Other results:

  • Connectedness to nature did not change much. Except in the participants least connected with nature at the start of the project. They did see an increase in their sense of connectedness.
  • Sense of social wellbeing unchanged
  • No change to overall happiness with their school. However most participants began with high happiness with their school.
  • Unclear results regarding linking identity and cultural heritage with environmental themes.

Would be good to get more details on:

  • Comparisons with control classes.
  • Frequency of sessions.
  • Content and delivery of project sessions. Were sessions topic content focused, or environmental issue focussed?

Putting the report in context of wider environmental education research

Increase in knowledge about the subject is not surprising. Research generally supports the idea that educational experiences kids get on field trips are effective.

Sessions with topic specialists at zoos, aquaria, outdoor sites result in more learning that self-guided visits. It is not be surprising to see that sessions with educators from specialist outdoor ed providers would be more effective than a similar session led by classroom teachers with less experience teaching outdoors.

Many studies highlight the difficulty of altering attitudes towards nature, intentions to take action, and behaviour. More exposure to nature is generally more effective at achieving these outcomes. Lack of consistent results on connectedness to nature is unexpected in a term-long project. Details on the content and delivery of the sessions could give insight into why there were not stronger results. Other research suggests this may be because the sessions were too issue focused. Another possibility is that the programme was too long or intense, and participants may have begun to suffer from assessment fatigue or a kind of topic burnout.

Follow-up evaluation of participants would be informative about the long-term effectiveness of environmental education interventions, for which research is lacking. Some suggestion in prior research that a longer duration programme like that would have durable results. Again details about the sessions would be informative. 

Related reading

Collins, Courtney & Corkery, Ilse & McKeown, Sean & McSweeney, Lynda & Flannery, Kevin & Kennedy, Declan & O’Riordan, Ruth. (2020). An educational intervention maximizes children’s learning during a zoo or aquarium visit. The Journal of Environmental Education. 1-20. 10.1080/00958964.2020.1719022. 

Drissner, Jürgen & Haase, Hans-Martin & Wittig, Susanne & Hille, Katrin. (2013). Short-term environmental education: Long-term effectiveness?. Journal of Biological Education. 48. 9-15. 10.1080/00219266.2013.799079.

Knapp, D. (1996). Evaluating the Impact of Environmental Interpretation: A Review of Three Research Studies. Research Symposium Proceedings: Coalition for Education in the Outdoors. https://eric.ed.gov/?id=ED413132

Knapp, Doug & Poff, Raymond. (2001). A Qualitative Analysis of the Immediate and Short-term Impact of an Environmental Interpretive Program. Environmental Education Research – ENVIRON EDUC RES. 7. 55-65. 10.1080/13504620124393. 

Ep 42 – EcoActive and forest school sessions

Interview with environmental educator Catia about her work with EcoActive.

EcoActive is a charity based in East London which runs workshops with schools and community groups. Their work with schools is usually long-term projects which focus on developing connections with nature or empowering students to take action on environmental issues.

Projects usually begin with a session exploring an issue like waste or climate change. Subsequent sessions will explore different aspects of the problem and generate ideas for ways students can address the issue in their own lives or in the school environment. Sessions will look at developing and implementing an action plan, with EcoActive supporting students and the school.

More information about EcoActive at: https://www.ecoactive.org.uk/

Tackling food waste

  • Survey foods which students like and don’t like.
  • Work with school catering to adjust menu to reduce food waste.
  • Talk about what happens to uneaten food.
  • Learn about composting and worms.

Solutions focus and Action Planning

  • Look at actions which are being taken by other people or organizations
  • Break down the problem into small achievable steps
  • Refocus big, global problems on action which can be taken in students own lives and local environments.
  • Identify aspects of the problem: Obstacles, Actions, People to speak to

Forest School sessions

  • Effective for developing emotional connection with nature, building up ‘soft skills’, and developing emotional intelligence
  • Needs to be long-term consistent experience
  • Facilitators introduce a few resources, being safe, and physical boundaries
  • Participants are free to choose what they do with their time in the space
  • Facilitators wrap up the session celebrating what participants did and finding out what participants want and like to do

Ep 41 – Film Club – Whitefang

Discussion of the 2018 film Whitefang, directed by Alexandre Espigares and distributed by Netflix. Based on the 1906 book by Jack London. In this episode I’m joined by educators Maggie and Ayesha.

You may like to watch the film first and think about:

  • What are the different ways people interact with their environment and animals?
  • How do you feel about the relationships between people and animals in the film?

Depiction of animals

  • We were pleasantly surprised by how engaged we were with the characters and story.
  • Whitefang has a lot of personality, but is not anthropomorphised.
  • Lives of wild animals are shown with a darker, harsher edge, than might be expected in an animated kids movie. 
  • Shows the struggle for food and survival. Whitefang’s early life and relationship with his mother is not idealized in the same way as in animal movies like Bambi.

Depiction of humans

  • Welcomed the overall message that ‘there are all kinds of people in all kinds of cultures’.
  • Overall maintains a ‘good’ vs ‘evil’ dichotomy, but this is understandable given the other difficult subject matter in the film.
  • Didn’t like that the villains are marked out by their appearance.
  • Appreciated the depiction of the Gwichin and the unfairness of needing to buy their own land.

More about the Gwich’in

Depiction of nature

  • Beautifully rendered landscapes.
  • Captures the vastness and wildness of the landscapes in that part of the world.
  • Nature is untamed, beautiful, harsh, but not overtly threatening or hostile.

Tough subjects

How animals are used

  • Training Whitefang to fight other dogs for sport is intensely brutal and negative. 
  • Potential for opening discussions about how animals should be treated.
  • How do you feel about a wild animal being used to pull sleds? Fight? Be a pet?
  • Also opens a window to a part of the reality of life in these places at this time which can often be glossed over by the image of brave, adventurous pioneers.

Releasing animals into the wild

  • Liked the sense of a wild animal being allowed to return to freedom and its habitat.
  • However, Whitefang has been domesticated for most of his life. By the end, also being taught not to hunt animals like chickens.
  • Feels unlikely that Whitefang would do well in the wild given the behaviours he’s been taught.
  • Would be difficult for him to integrate into a pack.
  • Returning to humans could be dangerous as he could be seen as dangerous and killed.

Ep 40 – Activities for early years

Interview with freelance educator Gini Trower about her work with afterschool clubs and nursery groups. She shares her experience getting started as a freelance environmental educator and talks us through a few of her favourite activities.

Find out more about Gini


Building birds nests

A bird puppet collects materials to build a nest. The bird sits on the nest and then reveals a blown egg which was hidden in the nest. Kids focus on the materials used and details like mosses and lichens are pointed out. The group then goes out to find materials to build nests. If you have a suitable area, an extra challenge could be to build a nest in bushes or shrubs. This is very difficult, but kids do gain an appreciation for what birds do with just their beaks!

Older kids (6+) also enjoy this activity, and may want to have a turn being the bird puppet.

Making compost

Kids learn about different kinds of soil and its components, focusing on dead plants. They then make their own compost using their own compostables from home (plants, vegetable peels). All this is put into a container and stirred around. Show the group a particularly mouldy fruit or vegetable and point out that even this is compostable.

The compost can then be taken home or added to a big compost heap. The group checks back on the compost each week to see how it changes. A water bottle with holes poked in the lid can be used as a simple watering can so kids can water the compost heap to keep it moist. Eventually the group can use their compost in the garden!

Alternatively kids can layer compostables and sand in a clear bottle. They can place in a few worms and woodlice and watch as they eat the compost and mix it together with the sand over the course of a week or two. Make sure sand or soil is the top layer to avoid smells and flies. If you do get smells, add it to an outdoor compost heap where reinforcement worms can more quickly eat any food.

Insect homes

The group thinks about the needs of insects and considers the kinds of places they might find shelter. The group then goes out to find good places for insects to hide. They then carefully collect plant stems, particularly those which are hollow such as cow parsley. These are cut into lengths, packed into a container with moss to hold it in. These are hung up in the garden or taken home. Some of the homes are taken down a few months later to see if anything has moved in.

Familiarity with the site is important to know if the right plant material is available, otherwise this can be collected elsewhere and brought in. It is also an opportunity to teach about safety and recognizing common plants in their area. Other plants with hollow stems: lilies, lupins, dahlias, rushes, bamboo.

If you are hoping for solitary bees (which don’t sting), put the insect homes in a sunny spot.

Ep 39 – Gloucestershire Wildlife Trust

An interview with Lorna Fox – Head of Engagement and Learning at Gloucestershire wildlife trust

About Gloucestershire wildlife trust

  • Manages around 60 sites in Gloucestershire, including Sites of Special Scientific INterest, and some Iron Age archaeological sites.
  • Most sites are very wild and do not have a visitor centre, but are beautiful and environmentally significant sites.
  • Crickley Hill and Greystones Farm are Gateway sites, which feature more facilities like visitors centres and cafes.

Find out more at the Gloucestershire Wildlife Trust website

Public programmes

More details can be found on their Learning pages.

Minibeast Detectives/Scientists

Popular with classes of all ages and families. Particularly popular with Early Years – KS1 (Age 3-7)

Format of the session lends itself to being informal and open, or more formal.

Individuals can participate in the session in ways which suit them.

  • Focus on collecting, sorting, or in-depth examination of a creature
  • Can be more cooperative, semi-competitive (Catch more than other groups)

Simple but effective equipment, facilitated by knowledgeable staff.

Iron age experience

  • Bookable by schools at real Iron Age site.
  • Half or whole day experiences in reconstruction of the settlement
  • Dress up and experience life and the natural world in the Iron Age
    • Activities include: Bushcraft skills, Iron Age cookery, build the wall of a hut
    • Focus on thinking about what the landscape would have been like in the past, comparison with the landscape today, and how humans have caused those changes.
  • Much more structured than Minibeast Detective because of how busy the day is.
  • Programme is still booked in winter months, when bookings for other sessions are low.

Restore our future

We know that single visits can be great experiences which support learning. However these single experiences are not well linked to behaviour or attitude changes. Regular/recurring experiences are more effective. However there are practical and financial limitations on schools being able to visit a site multiple times a year. To get around these limitations Gloucestershire Wildlife Trust if piloting a programme to support schools in developing their own green spaces and build teachers’ confidence and expertise in using those spaces.

  • Aim is for partnerships to take place over a number of years so the wildlife trust can really support the embedding of a school culture with strong link to nature and the environment.
  • Length of partnership is important to ensure it is bedded in and not dependant on a single teacher or administrator’s enthusiasm.

Gloucestershire schools interested in the programme should contact Gloucestershire Wildlife trust at: info@gloucestershirewildlifetrust.co.ukOr contact Lorna Fox directly at: lorna.fox@gloucestershirewildlifetrust.co.uk

Ep 38 – Ocean school

Interview with Lucija, Science producer at Ocean School. https://oceanschool.nfb.ca/

Contact Lucija: Lucija.prelovec@dal.ca

Ocean School aims to provide learners, the next generation of ocean citizens, with the knowledge and tools to understand our influence on the ocean and the ocean’s influence on us. They produce educational experiences which use powerful storytelling techniques, immersive technologies and interactive media. Its inquiry-based approach advances critical thinking, innovation and environmental awareness.

Resources discussed in this podcast:


An interactive experience where students explore how changes to certain variables impact the health of eelgrass in Malpeque Bay, and therefore the survival of other species in the habitat.

Where’s whaledo?

A virtual Right Whale into your room, built to an amazing scale… Reach out and discover every detail of this mighty mammal in augmented reality, all the way from its blowhole to its flukes!

For more information about these resources: Ocean school – Interactive experiences

Learn from Home with Ocean School

Ocean school have produced a curated set of modules in response to the increase in remote learning during the COVID-19 pandemic. They include media resources and accompanying activities. These can be used for learning from home, as well as a preview of the more in-depth resources which are also available.

Ocean school – Learn from home


Music in this episode – Gradual Sunrise by David Hilowitz

Ep 37 – Decolonizing environmental education

How does environmental education reproduce colonial structures and mindsets?

Environmental education is often done from a western scientific perspective

Concepts of natural capital and ecosystem services take the relationship between the natural world and people and encodes it within a capitalist system of values.

  • In theory, these concepts could push economic and political systems to safeguard nature because of its value as raw resources and ‘free’ services such as flood protection or purification of air and water. 
  • Indigenous ways of conceptualizing nature often do not have the strong dichotomy between people and nature. Places are part of the people who live there, and are often referred to as relations. Evaluating the worth of an area’s resources and services might be like trying to quantify the value of your cousins or your parents.

In an article by Sheelah McLean in The Canadian Geographer, she writes that environmental education tends to focus on the effects of environmental destruction in a way which ignores root causes like capitalism and colonialism, and overlooks the different ways environmental damage can impact different populations. 

It seems to me that there has been significant change in the last few years with progress seemingly being made by indigenous populations and countries of the global south beginning to have their voices represented and respected in national and global forums. Though there is still a long way to go environmental educators do seem to be recognizing concepts of environmental justice.

Colonization in the British Isles

There is a bit of a sense that decolonizing efforts are not relevant in the UK because it does not have an indigenous population. Related to this, there can be a sense that efforts at decolonization forgets white kids. That cultural responsiveness leaves them behind because they don’t have a culture. 

Looking back through history, the peoples of Ireland and the British Isles have actually been subject to a series of colonization events which affected the languages and views of the people here.

  • Celtic tribes had different languages and material cultures. Sometimes they got along, and sometimes they didn’t. They invaded one another, took over, and ruled over peoples from other tribes.
  • Then there was Roman conquest. Which shaped the cultures and even the british landscape. They shaped the british diet with the introduction of such exotic plants as apples and plums.
  • Viking invasions and imposition of Danelaw. Which shaped much of the english language, including famously the names for the days of the week.
  • Norman invasion from France. 

Learning about how these episodes left marks on what are now the cultures of the British Isles, might go some way towards understanding that white identities are cultural.

Britain is also a colonizing power. When we talk about the legacy of colonialism elsewhere in the world, one of the main issues discussed is the way colonizing powers create narratives and structures to legitimize and reinforce control. Often they are based on narratives and systems used at home to legitimize and reinforce structures of inequality.

The pedagogies developed by efforts to decolonize education around the world generally include these themes:

  • First, an acknowledgement of the history of colonized peoples, that they existed and thrived before colonization and have suffered since
  • Listening to and valuing the experiences of peoples who had been silenced. 

These themes are in large part about understanding and reconciling with differences and inequalities, and so they are themes which offer benefits even for places or peoples without the same recent history colonization.  

What might decolonizing environmental education look like?

Recognition that our perspectives on nature are shaped by our personal cultural background, and the cultural environments we work within. And that part of our role as educators is to build bridges between these different ways of knowing.

  • Conducting an archaeology of your own way of understanding the world.
    • What is your relationship with nature?
    • What experiences shaped your views?
    • Who guided and taught you? How did they teach you?
    • What was your relationship to structures of power and authority?
  • Invite students or community members to share their own knowledge and understanding.
    • It can be an opportunity for elders to share their knowledge with a younger generation. And for children who have drifted away from the culture of their parents and grandparents, another opportunity to reconnect.
    • Don’t expect them to be the expert. Many indigenous peoples have lost of weakened connections with their culture because of histories of oppression by colonial powers. Also we are the teacher, and should not expect a student to do all the heavy lifting.
  • Find out how students learned before they started school and while they’re at home.
    • What are the strategies their parents or families use to teach life skills?

Tips for culturally responsive teaching

Gamify it

Gamification adds game elements into teaching. Zaretta highlights that games often make use of features common in oral knowledge traditions like repetition and pattern recognition. It also adds a bit of competition.

Competition does not have to be against other students. It can also be competition against themselves, like in speed run games where you try to beat your previous score or a set time limit. Gamification can also include competition against the game, which can support development of collaboration skills. Think board games like Forbidden Desert, or team games like keep up where the group works together to keep the ball in the air as long as possible.

What might culturally responsive gamification look like? Find out what games or kinds of games the kids you work with like to play and build activities around those. Do the kids like to play chasing games? Make believe games? Games of chance? 

What are kids doing their games? And do those game elements echo systems of concepts you are teaching about? 

Better still. Have students develop their own game. After being introduced to the concept, students could adapt the rules a game to fit the concept being taught. This is also a great opportunity to check student’s understanding of the relationships between different parts of a concept.  

Make it Social

Making it social is about organizing learning activities so that students rely on each other and build a sense of community. Euro-American education tends to be very individualistic. Students are often trained to care about their own performance, keep their eyes on their own work. But many other cultures have a more communal orientation, and students with this sort of background can find individualistic settings difficult to adjust to.

Well organized and supported group work is a great way of doing this. But group work is not as simple as splitting a class into groups. The task needs to be clear and suitable for division of labour. Group size needs to be appropriate for the time, task, and class dynamics. Larger groups tend to need longer to work because it takes more time for everyone to take part and get organized. 

Storify it

This is about taking advantage of narrative structure and our familiarity with it to enhance our ability to remember the content. It is often easier to remember the events in a narrative than a list of facts because the events provide context for the next event. Sort of a chain of events where recalling one link helps with recalling events around it. 

Narrative is key in many cultures with strong traditions of passing on knowledge orally. There is also a growing body of research suggesting that narrative understandings are actually the default way in which humans understand the world.

Then there are simple things like good narratives building moments of tension and excitement, sweeping the audience up and carrying them with it. Engel, Lucido, and Cook in an article in Childhood Education point out that science narratives also contain information about the storyteller or scientists as people. This can make them more approachable and relatable, instead of being remarkable, exceptional, or unlike normal people. The way protagonists faced and overcame challenges can also help children see ways they might overcome the challenges in their own lives.

Pitfalls to avoid


Where bits and pieces of cultures are scattered through an activity. Which can have the effect of reinforcing stereotypes, over emphasizing differences, and othering already marginalized communities. 

Things which can help with this are making sure that when teaching about cultures, make the people central to the lesson. So if teaching about rainforests or deforestation, don’t just drop in mention of Amazonian peoples. Instead choose one or more groups to highlight and make their perspective, and their voices central to the lesson or the unit. 

No context

Can reinforce inaccurate or sometimes harmful stereotypes. A very simple example of this is depiction of peoples in traditional clothing, often the clothing depicted is worn only on special occasions. It would be like a story about American Christians only showed people in wedding dresses and tuxedos. A good way to avoid this is to make sure that you are also teaching about everyday life, homes, and pastimes, in addition to special occasions, sacred places, and ritual practices. Another good approach, if a group is represented in the school or local community, is to ask them what they’d like to share. 

Infantilization / Romanticization 

When looking at how peoples and their ways of knowing are represented, and look out for infantilizing or romanticizing them. 

Infantilizing most literally refers to treating someone like a child. Think of sayings like ‘kids will be kids’, and ‘they didn’t know better’. A way environmental education can accidentally veer into this area is presenting traditional methods as ‘the old ways of doing things before new and better ways (probably from Europeans or westerners) came along’. Or these people thought this, but scientists now know better. This has the effect of devaluing traditional methods or knowledge, potentially offending or alienating groups.  

Romatizication is in some ways the inverse, and also problematic. Think the ‘noble savage’ trope. In environmental education this also tends to characterize traditional cultures and indigenous people as being in harmony with nature, in the sense of living in it without damaging or impacting its functioning.

This paints people’s with a broad brush, making them 1-dimensional caricatures. It can also produce an image of empty landscapes, untouched by people. This is first, more than likely incorrect as there is considerable evidence that traditional cultures and indigenous peoples had significant impact on their environments. It can reinforce views of indigenous people as being primitive, lesser, lacking advanced technology. In addition, if landscapes are thought of as untouched, it becomes easier to justify taking over land for development or resource extraction.

A strategy for avoiding these pitfalls is to do more detailed comparison.

Look for insights provided by different ways of conceptualizing nature. What kinds of knowledge are generated by spending a month living in a forest, visiting a forest once a month for 5 years, or using satellite images?

Look for the pros and cons of different methods. For example, when and why might you choose to bake bread by hand? Why might someone not be able to make bread in a breadmaker? Why might someone choose to go to the store and buy a loaf? 

Investigate practices and the ways in which they maintained or changed the environment. How widespread was or is a particular system of agriculture? How did it support the local environment? How did it change the local environment?

More on Culturally responsive teaching

Questions? Comments? Feedback?

Send them to knowingnaturepodcast@gmail.com

Twitter: @KN_Podcast

Ep 36 – Journal Club – Ways of Knowing

Exploration of similarities and differences among Eurocentric sciences, Indigenous, and Neo-indigenous ways of knowing, to hopefully offer insights to science educators. Better understanding of these ways of knowing could help build bridges between our knowledge systems and other ways of knowing.

Article Discussed

Aikenhead, G.S., Ogawa, M. (2007). Indigenous knowledge and science revisited. Cultural Studies of Science Education. 2, 539–620. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11422-007-9067-8

Euro-American ways of knowing or Eurocentric sciences

  • Uniformitarian
    • Refers to the generalizability of scientific knowledge. Knowledge is valuable if it can be generalized to similar settings or situations. There is only one truth.
  • Reductionist
    • Complex problems or systems are approached by breaking it down into parts or variables.
  • Anthropocentric
    • Nature is seen in terms of its relationship to people. How useful it is to people. People are also free to manipulate and use nature as they see fit.
  • Influenced by positivism
    • A system of thought which attempts to produce a science free from any worldview or ideology. Emphasis is on inductive and deductive logic applied impartially to theory-neutral observations. Making use of empirical and experimental methods. The thinking being that this produces objective, value-free, universal, secure knowledge of nature.

Indigenous ways of knowing

  • Tend not to make use of dichotomies. 

“The languages of Aboriginal peoples allow for the transcendence of boundaries. For example, the categorizing process in many Aboriginal languages does not make use of dichotomies…. There is no animate/inanimate dichotomy. Everything is more or less animate.” 

“Aboriginal languages are, for the most part, verb-rich languages that are process- or action-oriented. They are generally aimed at describing ‘‘happenings’’ rather than objects.”

-Leroy Little Bear
  • Holistic and relational
    • Tends not to make the distinctions made by Europeans between concepts like science, art, religion.  Also tend to see everything as animate in some way, having knowledge and spirit. Don’t tend to have a hierarchy of status where plants are below animals, which are below people. Similarities between entities and people mean they are often also considered related to people.
  • Place-based
    • Knowledge and identity are profoundly linked with place or landscape.
  • Systematically empirical
    • Experience is collected over generations, incorporating or embracing changes. New information is “vetted collaboratively with wise knowledge keepers (often Elders), and all are tested out in the everyday world of personal experience.” (p.562)
  • Circular/Cyclical sense of time.
    • Embraces cycles and patterns. Time is dynamic but is not a linear progression.

Neo-indigenous ways of knowing

The authors identify neo-indigenous cultures as 

“non-Eurocentric cultures with a long standing history often tied to a geographic region. This history does not include being colonized by Western nations to the degree so many Indigenous peoples were.”

“Indigenous cultures worldwide are heterogeneous, yet neo-indigenous cultures are far more heterogeneous. For instance, Islamic, Bhutanese, and Japanese ways of knowing nature differ so widely that no one culture can be reasonably indicative of the others, in spite of their being non-Eurocentric.”


The authors in this article focus on the Japanese worldview. Highlighting the difference between the action-oriented concept of ‘shiru’ which roughly translates as ‘to know’, and ‘chishiki’, roughly translated as ‘knowledge’.

“From a Japanese person’s view of reality, knowing nature arises from praxis and metaphysics, whereas knowledge is something extracted and abstracted from reality by a Eurocentric point of view.”

“There is no Japanese translation for ‘‘the content of what is known’’ that would capture a Japanese perspective. In other words, shiru and chishiki are not directly related in Japanese, but to know and knowledge are directly related in English.”


They also spend time on the concept of ‘shizen’ which is often translated as nature, but also incorporates the interrelationship between humans and the environment they inhabit.

“Another way to compare shizen (as a noun) and nature is in the context of education. An education in shizen implies loving natural things in a totality with human experiences (verb oriented), while an education in nature (i.e., in Eurocentric sciences) implies the acquisition of knowledge of nature conventionally isolated from human experiences (noun oriented).”


Discussion Notes

Have you seen or encountered examples of different ways of understanding the world?

  • Cleanliness
    • Moral or spiritual pollution – concepts like sin or karma
    • Dirtiness – Being muddy or unsanitary
    • Pollution – Contamination with poisons or toxins

A pond might be ‘clean’ in the sense of being free from pesticides, fertilizers, or other toxins, but still be unsanitary or unsafe for drinking. It may be that neither of these dimensions have any bearing on the spiritual purity/pollution of the water.

  • Authority / expertise
    • Lived experience vs Academic knowledge
    • Who is an expert? Adults, Scientists, people with experience etc.

What is sufficient might vary from person to person. Adults sometimes want more academic/scientific sources for an explanation, where first-hand experience of a phenomenon may be enough for a child.

Reliance on experts for information may undermine individual’s drive to learn on their own. However individual first-hand investigation has limitations, and solely relying on this may lead to developing misconceptions. 

What do you already do, or have done, which could be adapted to these different paradigms?

  • Incorporate more art into environmental communication
  • Experiential learning
    • Gardening is a good example. It is very place-based, cyclical, and can be very empirical. Gardeners are constantly testing wisdom passed on from other gardeners.
  • Consider the relevance of what students learn.
    • Conceptualizing learning as ‘shiru’, which blends knowledge and how it shapes behaviour. The relevance of learning is built in. Learned ideas include how it changes the way you live or behave. All ‘shiru’ is practical.
  • Rethink dichotomies
    • Rethinking person/animal dichotomy might help with building respect
    • Similarly rethinking the animate/inanimate dichotomy might help people have greater respect for the environments they depend on


Music in this episode – Gradual Sunrise by David Hilowitz

Ep 35 – Film Club – The Lost City of Z

Lost City of Z (2016). Directed by James Gray. Based on the 2009 book Lost city of Z by David Grann.

British soldier Percy Fawcett is contracted by the Royal Geographical Society to chart a river in the Amazon. During the journey he encounters remnants and stories of a lost city in the jungle. The experience leads him to embark on a series of expeditions to find what he has called The Lost City of Z.

You may want to watch the movie first and think about:

  • How is the Amazon depicted?
  • What does the movie make you think about the Amazon and the people who live there?
  • How does the movie make you feel about the Amazon and the people who live there?

Depiction of nature

  • Amazon is a backdrop
    • Not much time spent on details of the environment.
    • Does not give much sense of the biodiversity
  • The green desert
    • Uniformly, endlessly, green
    • Yellow hue throughout gives sense of unreality
    • No animals, fruit, or flowers
    • Despite being in a rainforest, the explorers are initially unable to find any food on their own
  • Amazon as a barrier 
    • Begins as wild, impenetrable
    • Becomes less hostile on Fawcett’s subsequent visits
  • England and tamed nature
    • Image of a rural idyll
    • English country garden echoes images of a Garden of Eden
    • Despite the beauty and calm of the landscape, Fawcett seems to yearn for the wildness of the Amazon

Relationship with Nature

  • Economic resource
    • Exploration is for economic value. Faucett maps river so rubber plantations can be established
  • Challenge to be conquered
    • Fawcett wants personal glory
    • European desire to push boundaries
  • Barrier to civilization
    • Begins as a “green hell”, inhospitable to ‘civilization’
    • Over the course of the film Fawcett starts to see amazon as a home for people and, he suspects, a civilization
    • Remains of city has since been found in the Xingu river basin, now called Kuhikugu

Relationship with amazonian peoples

  • Fawcett begins with British colonial views of Amazonian peoples’ as primitives/savages. His   views are depicted as changing in subsequent expeditions
    • Impressed by their fishing techniques and their ability to cultivate the jungle
    • Argued against interference in their lives, against violence towards them
    • In reality Fawcett was more conflicted about Amazon peoples
      • Theorized that ‘white indians’ from Europe had crossed the Atlantic and civilized them

Problematic points

Rethinking what is ‘civilized/civilization’

  • Film does little to challenge the western/Eurocentric view of ‘civilization’ as tied to material culture.
    • Fawcett uses pottery as marker of civilization worthy of exploration and ‘discovery’
    • What Fawcett recognizes as cultivation of the rainforest, is monoculture plantation agriculture.

Rethinking what is primitive

  • As fellow humans peoples of the Amazon have been on Earth just as long as anyone else, and have history just as long as any other.
  • ‘Necessity is the mother of invention’ : Change is often in response to changing needs and/or environment
  • Behavioural and physical technologies can be effective though they may not look ‘modern’


  • Many of us are taught to think of history as progression or advancement
    • Tend to view practices and technology which appeared earlier in our history as being less advanced
  • Useful analogy is the concept of ‘living fossils’, plants and animals which appear to be largely unchanged from their fossil ancestors
    • Doesn’t mean there have been no changes
    • The physiology is just as suited to survival and reproduction today as it was for the now fossilized ancestor 

Thinking about present relationships with indigenous peoples

  • Still colonial/extractive
  • Cultural tourism can often still be colonial. Takes important practices and reduces them to an experience for personal enjoyment. Often separated from meanings, history, and significance for the people.
  • What has changed for these people to now require money from outsiders?

The role of women

  • Does little to challenge Fawcett’s exclusion of his wife from his expeditions
  • Contemporary with Marianne North, who went on similar expeditions on her own


Music in this episode – Gradual Sunrise by David Hilowitz

Ep 34 – Film Club – Arachnophobia

Arachnophobia (1990) Directed by Frank Marshall 

A Family Physician moves to the small town of Canima, California with his family to take over the practice of a retiring doctor. Unbeknownst to the people of the town a newly discovered spider from Venuzuela hitches a ride back to the small town in the coffin of an unfortunate photographer. There the spider produces hundreds of drone offspring with their father’s lethal bite.

You may want to watch the film first and think about:

  • How does the film depict spiders? Are they monsters or animals?
  • How does the film depict scientists? Are the villains, heroes, or support?

Arachnology (Spider science)

The expedition

  • Some accurate-ish field collection techniques
  • Extremely well-funded expedition to have a helicopter
  • Explanation for new species is plausible
    • Many species in tropical regions are adapted to narrow habitat range
    • Temperature difference in the sinkhole could be enough to isolate

Social spiders

  • There are several dozen species of spiders which live in social groups
  • Social behaviour may have evolved to allow tackling larger prey
  • Social spiders often construct 3-dimensional webs rather than orb webs as in the film
  • In reality social spiders are not as differentiated as shown in the film, all the individuals in social spiders can reproduce
  • Spiders used in the film are an actual species of social spider
    • Delena cancerides – the flat huntsman spider
  • colonies up to 300, but they are highly aggressive and commonly cannibalistic toward members from other colonies.

Invasive species

  • All the pieces of the invasive species concept are in the film, though it does not use the term
  • No longer contained by the temperature gradient and geography, new spider could spread across the countryside

Depiction of spiders

Plays on common fears of spiders such as the way they move, and large numbers of spiders, lurking small dark places etc. Doesn’t make up exaggerated monster spider with lots of ‘powers’.

  • Takes advantage of existing fears without creating new ones?
  • Doesn’t do anything to dissuade you from your fears
  • Doesn’t do as much to alter the image of spiders in the same way that Jaws gave sharks the reputation for being bloodthirsty monsters

Depiction of science

There are some elements of the film which cast science/scientists as the villains.

  • Killing and collecting butterflies, which are much beloved
  • Atherton’s focus on the spiders and collecting live specimens for research.

However scientists are not as directly responsible for the events of the film. Quite different from the role of scientists in the Jurassic Park films, for example. Scientists are crucial to the positive resolution of the film. Their knowledge of spider behaviour is necessary to find and destroy the nest.

  • Dr Atherton’s focus on scientific discovery is contrasted with his assistant’s focus on the welfare of the town.
  • Caring about the human impact of science

The making of Arachnophobia – YouTube video


Music in this episode – Gradual Sunrise by David Hilowitz